Monday, April 14, 2014

First Swim in the LED Mermaid Tail


Making a waterproof LED mermaid tail is ridiculously hard.  What kind of crazy person would even attempt something like that?  



I did my first swim in the tail on Friday night at a friend's house.  I'd tested the tail in the bathtub and fixed any leaks or short circuits I could find, but electricity is sneaky, leaky stuff. I was pretty terrified before that first true swim test -- to the point where I was waking up in the middle of the night, heart pounding, in a cold sweat.  Would I electrocute myself?  Would I electrocute anyone else in the pool with me?  Would the LEDs work?  Would they all just flicker once and then go out?  Was this just a very expensive and time-consuming fruitless dream?

Finally the time came and I headed over to the pool.  After some pretty poolside photos, I slowly and nervously dipped my fins into the pool, and watched as the lights sank gently below the surface.  They calmly twinkled up at me, so I smiled and slipped the rest of the way into the water, kicking gently at first, then with a little more force as the LEDs continued to glimmer on the walls of the pool.

First impression?  This tail swims REALLY WELL.  The competitor monofin and thinner gauge neoprene I used created a juuuust slightly positive buoyancy tail.  That means that in the water I'm nearly weightless, and just a little bit floaty.  I am delighted with this.  My "Ariel" swimming tail is very buoyant -- so much that it's difficult to swim in.  Glimmer's tail is perfect.

I swam back and forth, grinning like an idiot, for about 10 minutes.  After the water started to soak in a bit, I started noticing a few flickers here and there, but overall I was really impressed with the water resistance of the tail.  Once it dries out completely, I hope I'll be able to find the leak points pretty easily and add some more waterproofing.

I didn't get a chance to work on it this weekend -- too many Elsa Princess parties on Saturday, and then I had a photo shoot scheduled with The Mermaid Atlantis and Lance Miller down in Santa Cruz for Sunday evening, so I didn't want to open it up and mess with it.

The photos Lance took are still trickling in, but I'm really happy with how they turned out.   Good thing too -- right after we got the tail's lights set up, the ocean swelled up and swallowed my Nexus 7 tablet.  The tablet is how I control the tail (via bluetooth), so at least we'd had a chance to set the tail on rainbow mode before we lost it for good.

The ocean waves seemed to be a bit rougher on Glimmer than gently swimming back and forth in the pool.  I'm a little disheartened at how much work I'm going to need to do to get her working again.  But I'm pretty delighted with this:





I'll post more pics as I get them on G+ / Picasa or on Glimmer's Facebook Page.  Enjoy!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Glimmer the Mermaid -- New tail creation and show offering

I haven't posted in the last few months because I've been pouring all my energy into creating this.


I call her Glimmer the Mermaid.  :) (She's got her own facebook page, that makes her real!)

I made the LED swimmable mermaid seashells at the end of 2013, and wore them to the NC Merfest convention and they were a huge hit.  When I got home, I decided the shells needed a light-up tail to complement them.  The rabbit-hole opened up, and I dove right in.




The end result is absolutely stunning, and I am completely delighted with it.  This was the most learning-intensive and difficult and frustrating project I've attempted in.. well, since college, I think.  I have had to learn so much in so many different fields, and I've encountered so many amazing people and communities along the way.

This tail uses about 180 Adafruit Neopixels and an Arduino Micro to control them.  It's got a bluetooth feature -- I can control it with my android tablet and change the animations and brightness of the lights.  I plan to add audio sensors and possibly motion or color sensors as well (that'll be phase two, I think).

It is designed to be swimmable.  I'm doing the first full water test probably next week, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I used enough glue that nothing shorts or zaps me.  Nothing has so far,  and all the partial water tests I've done have worked fine.. but strapping a big battery and a bunch of electronics on, and then going for a swim, makes me a little nervous.

Mermaid in the bathtub!


But.  Swimming Mermaid LED Tail!!!

This is a neoprene tail painted with Jones Tones.  I used the same basic method for the tail as I used for my last neoprene Ariel Mermaid Tail, but I spared no expense this time.  I used a competitor monofin (which I like SO much better than the Rapid).  I made the scales larger and added lots of rhinestones and gems and lace.  When the lights are off, it almost comes across as "Mermaid Wedding" -- but I love the fanciness and I love how the predominantly white color scheme goes with the lights, whatever color they are.

The lights on the top part of the tail are individual neopixels cast in resin for diffusion and waterproofing.




 The lights on the bottom are neopixel strips encased in Dragonskin silicone.   This keeps them flexible (almost to a fault -- I have broken them a couple times already!) and very waterproof.

Also I made a glowing tiara with more of the resin cast neopixel "jewels".  Because Glimmer needed a glowing tiara.


All together, the outfit is just stunning.  I never want to take it off.  This tail is significantly heavier than my other tails have been (oof, abs!) but it should be close to neutrally buoyant in the water.  

I got to wear it to the A's Game season opening party at the Oakland Coliseum this past week. They put me by the sushi bar, HA! 

Glimmer was very well received.  Although, with that particular audience, most people seemed to be more excited about the light-up seashells than the fancy animated tail.  (Men.  What can you do?)




Once all the bugs are worked out and the swimmability tested, Glimmer will be available for all kinds of wet or dry events and appearances.  I'm also hoping to do a lot of photo shoots as the weather gets nicer.   I want to do sunset beach shoots, and underwater cave shoots, and fancy swimming pool shoots and snowscape shoots.  I just want to wear it everywhere.  :)  


Edit: If you're interested in geeky details about construction or coding, I'm blogging about all that stuff over at my Fire Pixie Fashion Blog.. take a look.  :)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Thoughts on Playing Elsa the Ice Queen (Frozen) at Parties

Birthday Party Frozen ElsaWith Disney's new Frozen movie out, and me being a Princess, I had to make the Elsa dress.  Had to do it!
I originally saw the movie and related more to Anna, the younger sister (the silly one!).  But when I saw Elsa's dress and amazingmagicalpowers, I knew that she was the one I wanted to be.  Superficial?  I want to be the powerful tormented one because she's pretty?  Well, yes.  At first.

The Elsa character is turning out to be INCREDIBLY popular, especially with 6-7 year old girls.  I thought they'd relate more to Anna, like I did.. but Elsa is the one everyone wants at their party.  Is it, like me, because of the pretty pretty dress?  The more I think about it, the more I think it goes deeper than that.

I'm really familiar with all the princess or princess-related Disney stories and movies.  This is what I do, after all.  And the more I develop the Elsa show and find the parts of the story that resonate with the kids, the more I think it's Power, rather than Beauty, that draw the kids to Elsa.

Elsa is the first Disney Princess ever to have Power.  Sure, Rapunzel could sing and make her hair light up, and Merida can shoot like nobody's busines, but Elsa controls the weather!  She can build ice palaces with a wave of her hand, she can make her own fabulous dress instead of getting a fairy godmother to do it for her, and she can even create living snowmen.  She's got more power in her little finger than all the rest of the Princesses combined.

Spiderman and Frozen
He didn't stand a chance.
No other female character in Disney's history has this kind of power. So far, it's been absolutely amazing to watch the little girls see, relate to, and feel that power inside their own imaginations.  The Let it Go song sends them into a frenzy of singing, dancing, and pretend-ice-sculpting.  They want to know how I made Olaf talk.  They want to see and feel and hear about learning to control that much power.  The kids like the dress (they like it a whole lot), but they LOVE the magic.

Thanks Disney, for giving us a Princess who can rival any Marvel Superhero in strength, grace, and absolute magic.  




Elsa Dress Back



Thursday, January 9, 2014

NC Merfest - Mermaids, Fire, Fashion, and So much Love


I just got back in town from the first annual NC Merfest in Cary, North Carolina.

How do I describe this experience in words?  I can do my best to describe the magic, share the art, and reminisce about the sheer, unadulterated joy, but somehow words just aren't enough.

NC Merfest was created by Christomer Starfish, the Mer King.  The Mer King decreed that all his subjects should come together and celebrate life, joy, and all things aquatic for one amazing weekend, January 3-5, 2014.

Fire Pixie was honored to be invited to do a fire show at the closing luau and an aerial circus act during the Mermaid Fashion show produced by Mermaid Atlantis.  And of course, I brought my body paints and my mermaid tail and did lots of swimming, competed in the Mermaid Olympics, and flipped fins with some of the most gorgeous and talented mermaids in the world.

Saturday morning I woke up bright and early.  Today was the fashion show, and there was lots to do.  I hurried to the Cary Town Center by 8:30 am to assist Revonne Carter with her body painting.  She had 5 models in the fashion show, and her regular assistant had called in sick.  She was using waterproof paints for the first time -- I guess regular paint won't stick to real mermaids -- and as all body painters know, using an entirely new kind of paint is really a challenge.

She gave me some direction and vision and turned me loose with a brush, and we got to work as the mermaid models chattered and the fashion show production went on all around us.  The colors shone, the energy bubbled up, and the morning flew by.

Even with unfamiliar paint, unfamiliar models and an unfamiliar assistant, Revonne's show turned out absolutely stunning.  



After painting for about 4 hours, still zinging and full of energy, I cleaned up and quickly got ready for my own fashion show performance.  The fashion show had a Fairytale theme (right up my alley, that) and Darrell and I had a surprise aerial silks act planned.

The show was opened by 3 fantastic aerialists from Cirque du Vol, including the most accomplished young aerialist I've ever seen - she had to be 7 or 8 years old and her act was stunning!

Next came the fashion show itself.  The parade of undersea creatures included a stilt walker, a lion fish, lots of sea punk designs and even a 12-person Chinese dragon parading around.  And of course, Mermaids!


Our circus act was show's finale.  I slipped my gorgeous Red Riding Hood cloak over my circus costume and skipped lightly down the runway, twirling and swirling my cloak like a fashion model.  After a moment Darrell appeared on the stage in his silly Big Bad Wolf getup with a howl.  He owned the runway, strutting and swishing his wolf tail.  I ran around looking for a place to hide, and soon found myself at the top of the aerial silk where I pelted the Wolf with stuffed penguins until I hit him squarely in the snout, and knocked him out.  I dropped the cloak and launched into a fun, irreverent aerial dance.


After the show, all the performers, designers and models took the stage for a final bow, and then we packed up and headed back to the hotel to make ourselves fancy for the Masquerade Ball.

As I am a Princess at heart, the Ball was the event I was most excited about. I'd been dreaming about my dress for ages, and scheming with Mermaid Atlantis to come up with and create matching ball gowns fit for a Magical Mermaid Masquerade.  

We started with our brand-new light up LED mermaid seashell tops and added lots of pearls, accessories and jewels.  For the dresses themselves, we wanted to create them from something really special.  We'd shopped around, looking at so many different fabrics, and when we found The One, we both knew it immediately.

This gorgeous sequined fabric is like nothing I've seen before.. it's pettable!  Pet one way and the sequins are an opal black.  Pet the other way, and they transform to a rich, shimmering iridescent green/blue.  (We wouldn't stop squealing and petting it.  I think the guy at the store thought we were slightly insane.)  


The dresses turned out just stunning, but that wasn't quite magical enough for me and my Princess Ball Gown Standards, so I also sewed a dozen or so subtle LED lights into the skirt of my dress.  The twinkle and fade of the lights is actually (magically!) triggered by the motion of the dress - as I swish my hips, the lights ripple across the fabric and then wink out again, catching the eye and then vanishing before you're sure whether what you saw was a reflection, high tech, or just pure magic.

Shameless Exhibitionism

We arrived at the ball, dresses and faces aglow. The event was held at the Raleigh Natural History museum which was an incredible venue, and everyone was dressed to the nines and looking fabulous.  We danced, we sang Siren songs, we toasted our Merfolk friends from around the world, and we pretty much soared through the night and into the wee hours, before ending up in the hotel pool in our mermaid tails and light-up seashells, splashing, swimming and just enjoying the heck out of each other.

The last day of the event started far too early for my wine-addled head.  We woke up and headed back to the pool for a class in Advanced Breath Holding, followed by lunch and the Mermaid Olympics.  This was a fun competition with events like synchronized swimming, bubble blowing, mermaid siren calling and a dinglehopper dive (that's me in the light-up seashells near the end of the video).   


There was also a mermaid coloring contest, in which I won a medal for "most abstract."

Bet you can't guess which one is mine.

Tired and elated, we headed off to get ready for our fire show at the weekend's closing luau.  Despite the chilly, rainy weather, everyone trooped outside after the Finfolk Productions silicone tail raffle (which I'm gonna win for SURE next year) to see us burn. 

Our fire show is the one I'm most passionate about, so I was very excited and a little nervous to perform for all our new best mer-friends.  Would they like it?  Mermaids are water folks, not fire folks.. what would they think?

As the show was starting, Darrell gave me a wry look and then turned to the audience.  "The sound system has refused to play our music," he told them.  "We'll be performing to silence, so you'd all better make a lot of noise."  

Whaaa?  Was he serious?  No music?  Our show is really tightly choreographed.  We can't dance to silence!  

But then Darrell lit up the torch, and as the fire flared up, the mermaids cheered. He grinned, and started wisecracking and teasing people with the fire as I closed my eyes, felt for the music radiating from the hearts of all the beautiful mer-folk, and started to dance.  

Who would have thought that mermaids would enjoy fire quite that much?  They laughed, cheered and danced along with us as we made our way through the show, feeling each other and our audience so much more than usual without the music there to fill in the cracks.  At the end of it all, part of me is grateful for the silence that allowed me to hear the mer-song burning inside everyone.  

Amazing photo by Way Beyond Productions

Good thing Darrell pulled that fire snake out of that merman.

"Heated Patio" indeed..
We talked, smiled, and connected until late into the night.  Nobody was willing to go to bed and end this magical weekend, or to say goodbye to all the incredible new soul mates we had just met.  But all things must end, and I'm still floating in a sea of bliss.  I'm so incredibly grateful for this incredible life, and all the magical creatures who fill it.  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Mermaid Swimming with Whale Sharks and Cancun's Underwater Museum

Mermaids, whale sharks and sandy beaches?  Count me in.

Way Beyond Productions, a photo studio and dive shop out of North Carolina, put together a mermaid portfolio  dive trip at Isla Mujeres, off the coast of Cancun in Mexico.  The trip was absolutely magical.  As I write this a week later, I'm still full of love and light and mermaid magic. 


Our crew consisted of 4 mermaids, 3 professional underwater photographers, and 3 friends.  The ratio was just perfect - there were just enough people to pose, shoot, and assist at all times.

Monday, our first day on the island, was pleasantly spent scouting for potential shooting locations and getting acclimated to the place.  We did some test-shooting in the ocean right by our hotel, and I discovered that my new mermaid tail is approximately as buoyant as a hot-air balloon.  This made swimming down to pose for photos rather problematic.  Curse you, brand-new 3mm neoprene!  So we took advantage of the calm water and did some shallow water shooting, playing with reflections and poses, and called it a day.

Tuesday the weather and the water turned dark.  The gray skies and windy seas made for a really challenging shooting environment, but we were undaunted.  A picturesque bridge with rotting pylons, shallow tide pools and sandy beaches provided our photographers with inspiration as the mermaids fought the current and the wind and posed for artistic closeups.

Wednesday dawned bright and clear as the glorious sunrise found us boarding our boat to swim with the whale sharks.  The whale shark migration at this time of year off the Cancun coast is a huge tourist draw (and rightfully so) and we wanted to get there early while there was still a good chance of getting shots without snorkel-bombers in the background.

I still haven't quite absorbed the awe, scale and majesty of these creatures.  Whale sharks are the largest fish in the ocean.  They're filter feeders with big open mouths, big spotted fins and giant sweeping tails, and this particular location had hundreds of sharks circling and feeding for the entire 3 hours we were there.

Raul, our sexy latino dive master, called out "Who's first?" and I more or less jumped up and hurled myself overboard without even stopping to wiggle into my mermaid tail.  Raul splashed over to me, grabbed my hand and began towing me toward an oncoming shark.  He pulled me sharply as the whale began to turn in front of me shouting, "DIVE NOW!"   I dove.

There's a spot just behind the enormous gills where the shark's forward motion creates a pocket of moving water, and a well-placed swimmer can "draft" along in their wake.  I headed for this sweet spot and found myself surfing on this enormous creature's power, being pulled along effortlessly as my heart beat frantically and I grinned from ear to ear.  The sheer scale and power of a whale shark is at first terrifying, then exhilarating.  Their giant mouths seem to be capable of swallowing a swimmer in one go, but they only have eyes for the krill and plankton surrounding them along their migration route.  After my initial surge of fear, I smiled, relaxed and simply fell in love with these gentle giant teddy-bears of the sea.

After the first encounter in my mask and fins, I launched myself back out of the water and mermaid-tailed up.  I jumped in again, this time with a couple of amazing photographers, and made a nuisance of myself to as many whale sharks as possible.


Underwater modeling is tricky: with no mask it's hard to see where anything is, and staying aware of facial expressions, body shape and breath control (we can't have bubbles in the shot!) is quite a feat.  This is where my fellow mermaids really started to shine.  Malena has been free diving for eight years and can hold her breath for over two minutes as she dives and rolls and swims around and below the sharks.  Luma had been practicing diving and breath holds for this trip for months, and Sydney.. well, I just don't think that girl's quite human.

The photographers were equally astounding, maneuvering quickly to get the shots they wanted and easily outlasting most of the mermaid breath holds. And our guide Raul was amazing - towing mermaids, assisting photographers, taking video, and generally making everyone else tired with his boundless energy.

My main accomplishment was that I resolutely did not get seasick.

After several 15-20 minute dives apiece, giant manta ray sightings, and lots and lots of shark encounters, we climbed back aboard our boat and headed for land, tired, happy, and quietly marveling at the wonder just below the surface of the waves.

Thursday the storm hit in force.  The sky raged and the rain poured and soaked everything on the island.  There was thunder and lightning.  It was warm and exquisite.  We did not let the rain stop us - we shot for a couple hours in the ocean and in the pool between lightning strikes and felt pretty bad-ass.

After a collective nap and half a bottle of rum, someone produced a bag of long animal-twisting balloons and I proceeded to entertain our company by twisting personalized mermaid balloons, whale shark balloons, manta ray balloons and just about anything else we could dream up.  I am a little fuzzy on the details, but I seem to remember that we re-enacted the entire trip using our balloons as puppets.  Somewhere, I believe there is video.  I hope it finds its way to me.

For dinner, we found a bar downtown that boasted live music and, delight of delights, a pole-dancer pole rising from the bar, with a mermaid banner at the top.  It didn't take much to convince Sydney that she ought to get up there on that pole.  Sydney's only concern was that she wasn't dressed to pole dance.  "What the hell," she grinned, and dropped her sarong seductively to the floor as she climbed and twirled and vamped, totally starkers, for the disbelieving bar patrons.

It was a tough act to follow, but I'm not one to let a good pole go to waste. By the end of the night, three more of us got up there and shook our stuff (none of us stripped, but then, none of us were super hot 22 year old models). We threw back our celebratory tequila shots and danced the rest of the night away.

Friday was our last day on the island, and we woke up hoping and praying for clear weather.  We didn't get clear, but we got "clear enough" and so we climbed onto our boat and headed out for the MUSA Underwater Museum.  The museum consists of over 300 sunken life-sized human statues, created with an aim toward conservation.  With too much snorkeling and diving on Cancun's lovely coast, the reefs are suffering.  The artist, Jason Decaires Taylor, created the statues as a draw to bring people away from the reef and give it a chance to recover.  Ultimately what has happened is that the statues themselves are slowly creating a new reef as sea life discovers them and moves in.  It's amazing.

It's also 30 feet down.

I did my best.  The storm returned in force, the swells reached five feet high and at times I couldn't see any other mermaids or human beings around me.  I waited, breathing, and when I heard someone yell "GO" I took the deepest breath of my life, turned tail and swam as hard as I could for the statues on the sea floor.  I made it maybe halfway when my lungs and my eardrums took over and demanded I swim for the surface again.  I resisted, fighting my tail's buoyancy, fighting my lungs and eardrums, and all the while relaxing every facial muscle, keeping any bubbles out of the shot, smiling beatifically in the general direction of the blur that I hoped was the camera, and trying to make pretty shapes with my arms.  (The other mermaids just made it look so easy!  I definitely need some free diving lessons.)

Two moments.

I donned a mask and watched Sydney dive.  She floated effortlessly down 30 feet and high-fived one of the statues.  Then  she turned and spotted a camera, spread her arms wide and radiated mermaid joy, emotion, and pure being with her whole body.  She absolutely glistened in her shining white tail against the dark, mysterious statues. Beauty.

Later, I bobbed on the surface with Luma and Sydney.  We floated in place, breathing.  At the word GO, we took deep breaths and shot down together, surfing with one another's motion as we'd done with the whale sharks. I pulled up a little before the other two and watched from above as they continued down together, muscles rippling and tails glistening in the light. The moment seemed to last forever as I watched them touch hands and reach for the statues, and then head back for the surface with me.


Our connection remained until all our heads broke the surface, coughing up water and gasping for air.  We touched eyes and exchanged delighted smiles, feeling our mermaid sisterhood in that moment.

Buoyed by this feeling, we flopped and coughed our way back to the boat for a rocky ride home, chased by the storm.  Even the pouring rain and nauseating waves couldn't dampen my spirits.

The magic of the Isla Mujeres Mermaids is crystalizing into a beautiful memory that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Photo credits:
Way Beyond Productions

Monday, August 19, 2013

Quarry Lakes Mermaid Swim in Fremont, CA

Our local swimming mermaid pod had a fantastic get-together and swim party at Quarry Lakes in Fremont in late July.  

The San Francisco Bay Area pod, hosted by the Mermaid Atlantis, gets together at least once a month to swim, giggle, exchange mermaid secrets and flip our fins at each other.  This was the first gathering I've attended and it was absolutely delightful and fun.

Julie from the Tri-City Voice Newspaper came out and took some photos and wrote up an article about the event, and about mermaid culture in general.  It's a fun read, and besides, I got my picture in the paper in my brand new tail.  Who says nothing interesting ever happens in the suburbs?


These mermaid get-togethers usually draw around 10-15 people - professional mermaids, semi-pro ladies with their own home made tails, and newbies who just love mermaids or want to try swimming in a tail for the first time.  It's so delightful to watch women (and the occasional intrepid mer-man) light up and giggle, and live out this childhood fantasy that so many of us had.  



Some days I just feel so lucky to be a mermaid!

Family Favorite Award for 2013 for Fire Pixie Entertainment

Just a quick post to express how grateful and excited we are to be winners again this year in Bay Area Parent's Best of the Best contest!

This is the 5th year we've won in the Best Party Entertainer category, and I'm so grateful to all of our customers, readers, and entertainers for keeping Fire Pixie on top.

We are doing our best to make as many children smile as we possibly can.  It feels so great to be rewarded for simply following our bliss!